10 min read ⌚
Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say
Have you ever said “I was wrong” and felt liberated after it? What about “it’s like this” or “this is it?”
Kelly Corrigan learned to say these—and 9 other—phrases the hard way.
And she shares her stories in her unique memoir:
Who Should Read “Tell Me More”? And Why?
Tell Me More is a book for everyone who wants to read biographies—especially if you are a fan of Kelly Corrigan and her previous works.
It is also a book for everyone who wants a little guidance in life. After all, the best way to learn what to do is through other people’s stories.
And Corrigan knows how to tell them.
About Kelly Corrigan
Kelly Corrigan is an American writer.
Graduate of the University of Richmond, she received her Masters in Literature from the San Francisco State University.
In addition to numerous articles for magazines such as Glamour and O, The Oprah Magazine, she has also written four books so far: The Middle Place, Lift, Glitter and Glue, and Tell Me More.
Find out more at http://www.kellycorrigan.com/
“Tell Me More PDF Summary”
Trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible, as the blurb of Tell Me More states, seems like a crazy idea.
After all, on the face of it, love and connection are two just too complex phenomena to be framed into language. It is for the reason that, instinctively, we often think of love as something of a shortcut to telepathy. Two people in love (be they spouses, best friends, or a mother and a child) are capable of understanding each other without the use of words, almost exclusively through glances, smiles, kisses, and touches.
“The other problem with language,” adds Kelly Corrigan, “is that arranging words into sentences requires we flip on our thinking machine, which necessarily claims some of our focus, so that as soon as we start deciding how to explain a feeling, we’re not entirely feeling the feeling anymore, and some feelings want to be felt at full capacity.”
Such are the feelings Corrigan conveys through the 12 stories in her book, each of which simultaneously mocks “the reach of language” and, yet, is conveniently captured in the title in the net of just a few simple words:
“It’s like this.” “Tell me more.” “I don’t know.” “I know.” “No.” “Yes.” “I was wrong.” “Good enough.” “I love you.” “No words at all.” “Onward.” “This is it.”
For our summary today, we share a few of Corrigan’s stories.
It’s Like This
Three months after her beloved dad Greenie had passed away, the life of Kelly Corrigan fell apart.
“There was no real reason for it to fall apart that morning,” she writes. “And, in fact, it didn’t. I did.”
On the face of it, it was just another regular morning at the Corrigans. However, by the time Kelly had opened her eyes waking from a pleasant dream to the smell of bacon (her husband’s everyday breakfast), the whole world seemed to her as if already out of joint.
It’s not that something especially alarming had happened—it was, more or less, the usual routine. Only this time, it hit Kelly hard—and she was overwhelmed.
Kelly heard her teenage daughters—Georgia (16), a “world-class procrastinator”, and Claire (14), a Lin-Manuel Miranda fan—fighting over who’s wearing whose shirt once again, and, before too long, saw Edward, her husband (a Ben Stiller lookalike and a diehard Warriors fan) leaving for work.
That was always his way of dealing with things. “Let ‘em fight!” he had learned from the single parenting book he had ever read, and so he always did just that. Kelly couldn’t stand that—just as she couldn’t stand the mess that she was in the morning or the mess in the kitchen.
She was about to shout and rage and break every single thing around her into a thousand tiny smithereens when she remembered the favorite phrase of her meditation teacher: “it’s like this.”
Sometimes, life is just like this. Unbearable, untidy, chaotic. As a consequence, we become irritable and ready to be angry at just about anyone. However, that changes nothing. The only thing we can do is accept life in all its messiness, taking a deep breath and saying: “it’s like this.”
Tell Me More
“Why are you trying to fix things! I just need you to listen!”
Probably every man on this planet has heard these words quite a few times in his life. The problem is they do not really understand them: they rarely listen, and, instead, always offer solutions.
However, even when these solutions make a lot of sense (such as in this smart Jason Headley short film), they usually end up only making matters worse. Why shouldn’t they? You’re calling a cab for someone who actually just wants to ride with you: the destination is irrelevant.
Kelly’s friend Tracy seems to have understood this better than anyone. Possibly because as difficult as it is in relationships, it is even more difficult to just listen when it comes to your children. “It is a bit like watching someone struggle over a puzzle,” Tracy said once to Kelly, “and you have the final piece in your pocket.”
Watching your child suffer over something you can solve is possibly one of the most challenging things a parent will ever be asked to do. And, yet, in a way, it is one of the things you should do most often.
Kelly learned this in practice.
Once, Tracy was with her when her daughter Georgia (then eleven) called her to complain over the fact that nobody likes her at school. Apparently, she was accused by another girl (Piper) that she had been mean to her (even though she wasn’t), but nobody believed her.
Kelly was torn between two things: either ask Georgia what she had done (because she must have done something, mustn’t she?) or go straight to her school. Instead, advised by Tracy, she just said: “Tell me more.”
And Georgia did tell her everything. By the end of the discussion, she wasn’t crying anymore.
We’ve talked about the importance of saying “no” quite a few times. As far as Kelly Corrigan is concerned, it seems that we should be talking about it even more.
“Sexually, professionally, personally,” she writes, “saying ‘No’ takes balls. One friend told me her one big take away from three years, and $11,000 of therapy was ‘Learn to say no and when you do, don’t complain and don’t explain. Every excuse you make is like an invitation to ask you again in a different way.’”
Kelly’s mother knew how to say no. “She had her own mind, and she used it,” Corrigan writes. In other words, she never bothered about what other people might think of her if she declines their invitation to do something or go somewhere. She’d just wave them off with a simple no-excuses no and, instead, spend the evening alone, calm and happy:
Liberated by the simple act of saying no—which I submit is impressive for any woman, and downright radical for one raised in the Nice’n Easy generation—my mom had always been able to find outs where others could not. Looking back, I think it came down to her impressive willingness to be disliked and her utterly unromantic position that people should take serious—if not total—responsibility for their own happiness.
“It must be possible to say ‘No’ nicely and still be loved,” Kelly writes, remembering her mother. After all, no matter how many times her mother had said “no,” she was always adored by her (and by all of her family).
Children are exceptional at saying “no;” adults are very bad at this. Kelly was great when she was a child: after her mother had ordered the wrong thing for her birthday, Kelly refused to eat cheese for the next ten years—even though it was her favorite food.
We guess Kelly isn’t as good at saying “no” anymore, because the story she relates to us to describe the power of “no” and its value as an interhuman connector is one in which the “no” comes from her husband.
You see, Kelly had a plan for her life: she wanted to give birth to four children by the time of her 40th birthday, and with 2 already under the belt at 36, she was way on course to make her dream a reality.
But then she had to battle with cancer, and the chemotherapy suspended her fertility. She had no option but to move to Plan B, so she asked her husband if he wanted to adopt two children.
You already know what Edward said: “No.”
He was at a good place in his life at the time—happily married with two children—and it was time for him to dedicate more time to himself and his career.
Kelly was, at first, devastated, but she soon realized that, as difficult as this “no” was, it was the only way out of an unpredictable and messy future. If Edward hadn’t been a bit selfish, he might have regretted it later on, and maybe their marriage would have come under threat.
To sum up, no matter what they say to you, and no matter how difficult it is to utter it, “no” is a word of love. Use it wisely.
Do you know why Jewish children are religiously initiated at the age of 13?
Well, Kelly didn’t, and soon after the bat mitzvah of Ruby—daughter of her friend Ariel—finished, she asked the Rabbi named Michael for the reason.
Michael told her that the age of thirteen is pivotal in a human’s life. It is not merely a moment of incredible intellectual growth, but also the point of no return into adulthood.
Though simple, the goal of these imitations is as significant as anything: to tell the children of yesterday that the world of tomorrow is theirs for the taking. To pat them on the back and make sure that they are able to understand their power to be something more than just mere passers-by and to become the change they want to see in the world.
There’s nothing more important than this belief, says Kelly Corrigan. For children of 13, most adults are almost mythical figures, bigger-than-life heroes who can do just about anything.
That’s why it is important that these people show the thirteen-year-olds of the world that they are not that much different.
“That’s how it works,” writes Corrigan. “Someone important believes in us, loudly and with conviction and against all substantiation, and over time, we begin to believe, too—not in our shot at perfection, mind you, but in the good enough version of us that they have reflected.”
Key Lessons from “Tell Me More”
1. Putting Your Feelings Into Words
2. Learn to Live with the Complexity of Things
3. The Most Beautiful Three Words in the English Language
Putting Your Feelings Into Words
Sometimes, it is difficult to put feelings into words. Kelly Corrigan argues that, when it matters the most, it is downright impossible to do that.
Because to express something, you need to use language, and language is something your brain does. Consequently, you can’t say how you feel without first stopping yourself from feeling that thing for a moment to put it into words.
Maybe there is a way to circumvent this.
Just use the usual phrases, the clichés if you will, empowered by the feelings and uttered as if for the first time: “It’s like this.” “Tell me more.” “I don’t know.” “I know.” “No.” “Yes.” “I was wrong.” “Good enough.” “I love you.” “No words at all.” “Onward.” “This is it.”
Learn to Live with the Complexity of Things
Being honest with yourself starts with three simple words: “I don’t know.” Socrates turned this into a method for extracting knowledge; you ought to turn in a way of life.
Take Kelly for example.
Raised in a devoutly Catholic Irish-American family, she still doesn’t know what to make of God. Throughout her life, she has “stood in every square on the board: obedient believer, secretly hopeful, open-but-dubious… walked away from the board entirely, only to circle back.”
Nowadays, all she can say is this: “I’m not sure of anything.” But that’s quite enough—life is a mystery, and we should live it that way more often than not.
“I try to be one of the exceptional people who can live with the complexity of things,” Kelly writes, “who are at peace with the unknown and the unknowable, who leave all the cages open. I tell myself: There’s so much that you don’t know, you can’t know, you aren’t ever going to know.”
The Most Beautiful Three Words in the English Language
As powerful as they are, “I don’t know” are nobody’s favorite words in the English language; nor are “it’s like this,” “tell me more,” “I was wrong,” or “This is it”—three phrases Kelly analyzes through her stories.
The most beautiful three words in the English language can’t be any other but “I love you,” can they?
Kelly sums up their power beautifully in three sentences we just had to quote:
“The first time the words pass between two people: electrifying. Ten thousand times later: cause for marvel. The last time: the dream you revisit over and over and over again.”
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“Tell Me More Quotes”Accepting things as they are is difficult. A lot of people go to war with reality. Click To Tweet But the truth is that I’m always teetering between a mature acceptance of life’s immutables and a childish railing against the very same. Click To Tweet Being in our lives ‘as they are’ is probably one of the most common struggles people have. Click To Tweet There’s no greater gift than to help a child see their enoughness, their might. Click To Tweet Why we don't value intellectual honesty beyond easy answers is beyond me. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Tell Me More lost to Tara Westover’s Educated in the race for the “Best Memoir & Autobiography” award at the annual 2018 GoodReads Choice Awards, but just like Michele Obama’s Becoming or Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ Small Fry, it was among the nominees for a reason.
Candid, fearless, and warm, the book is a joy to read. Even though a memoir, it offers a piercing view beneath the surface of our shared humanity, exploring everyone’s hunger for love and connection in 12 highly personal stories, each of which, in its own way, demonstrates just how similar we are—in all our differences.